Dentists Are Seeing an Epidemic of Cracked Teeth. What’s Going On?
When I reopened my dental practice in early June, the tooth fractures started coming in: at least one a day, every single day that I’ve been in the office.
“How’s your dental practice?” a friend of mine asked, brow furrowed, concern evident on her face.
I’ve seen this look a lot recently. Since the onset of the pandemic, with a citywide shutdown and social distancing measures firmly entrenched, more than a handful of friends and family members have presumed I must be on the brink of closing. But I let her know that I am busier than ever.
“Really?” she asked. “How’s that possible?”
“I’ve seen more tooth fractures in the last six weeks than in the previous six years,” I explained.
Unfortunately, that’s no exaggeration.
I closed my midtown Manhattan practice to all but dental emergencies in mid-March, in line with American Dental Association guidelines and state government mandate. Almost immediately, I noticed an uptick in phone calls: jaw pain, tooth sensitivity, achiness in the cheeks, migraines. Most of these patients I effectively treated via telemedicine.
But when I reopened my practice in early June, the fractures started coming in: at least one a day, every single day that I’ve been in the office. On average, I’m seeing three to four; the bad days are six-plus fractures.
What’s going on?
One obvious answer is stress. From Covid-induced nightmares to “doomsurfing” to “coronaphobia,” it’s no secret that pandemic-related anxiety is affecting our collective mental health. That stress, in turn, leads to clenching and grinding, which can damage the teeth.
But more specifically, the surge I’m seeing in tooth trauma may be a result of two additional factors.
First, an unprecedented number of Americans are suddenly working from home, often wherever they can cobble together a makeshift workstation: on the sofa, perched on a barstool, tucked into a corner of the kitchen counter. The awkward body positions that ensue can cause us to hunch our shoulders forward, curving the spine into something resembling a C-shape.
If you’re wondering why a dentist cares about ergonomics, the simple truth is that nerves in your neck and shoulder muscles lead into the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, which connects the jawbone to the skull. Poor posture during the day can translate into a grinding problem at night.